First Look

NRSC alarmed over dramatic spike in road fatalities

PROComm | 2013-08-26 00:00:00

The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) is expressing alarm over the dramatic increase in road fatalities in recent weeks. Dr. Lucien Jones, Vice Chairman/Convenor, NRSC, notes that while the Council has optimised the effectiveness of its road safety initiatives, there is a dire need for “new ammunition to fight the epidemic of road crashes.” To this end, the NRSC is renewing its call for the government to pass the new Road Traffic Act as soon as possible.

The appeal from the Council comes at a time when the nation has experienced 9 deaths and in excess of 21 injuries, as a result of traffic crashes, during the past 4 days. Between January 1 and August 27, 2012 in comparison to the same period in 2013, road fatalities have increased from 170 to 194, while crashes have jumped from 148 to 173. These figures represent a 14 per cent and 17 per cent hike in road deaths and road crashes respectively. Thoroughfares which have been the scene of traffic crashes during the past 4 days are: Sheffield main road in Westmoreland, Queens Highway and Howard Cooke Boulevard in St. James, Wilderness Main Road in St. Mary and Spanish Town Road in Kingston.

Dr. Jones is of the view that the promulgation of the new Road Traffic Act (RTA) will advance current enforcement initiatives, as well as be a comprehensive approach in addressing many of the traffic breaches, and traffic environment deficiencies which are now taking place.

“The RTA is taking too long to be adopted. It has been in the drafting and legislative cycle since 2004 – a total of nine years,” bemoans Dr. Jones. “ The Minister of Transport Dr. Hon. Omar Davies has promised that it will be ready this fiscal year, but we think it needs to be ready if possible this calendar year. That’s the only way we will deter motorists who are intent on causing mayhem on the roads.”

The NRSC Vice Chairman/Convenor points out that where traffic tickets remain unpaid, the new RTA will prohibit traffic offenders from doing certain business with the government. Dr. Jones outlines, “The new RTA proposes several road safety components when compared to the current Act. For example it will address cell phone use while driving. It will also cause Jamaica to adopt an international tyre standard, and a new and improved driver-training standard. A system for certifying driving instructors will also be established.”

Turning to the matter of the suspension of drivers’ licences, Dr. Jones explains that the current traffic regulations do not guarantee automatic suspension of drivers’ licences by the Island Traffic Authority (ITA).  However, licences can be suspended by way of going through the courts and at the discretion of the presiding judge. Under the new RTA there will be automatic suspension of licences, after the perpetrators have accrued certain demerit points.

In the meantime, the Council is emphasizing that crashes are preventable and motorists should desist from speeding, which is the major contributor to fatal traffic mishaps.  “From all accounts speeding is the main cause of the recent crashes and we are appealing to operators of private and public transportation to exercise greater care and caution on the roads,” says Paula Fletcher, Executive Director, NRSC.  “The impact which result from speeding is greater in a traffic crash, and there are likely to be fatalities, when speeding is compounded with dangerous driving.”

Mrs. Fletcher is reminding motorists to also use safety devices: “Seatbelts must be used in the front and back of motorcars – it’s the law. Without a seatbelt you become a flying missile in a crash. Also, both cyclists and pillion riders should wear safety helmets. These devices protect the wearers from serious injuries, which may prove fatal.”

Her reminder is timely, as since the start of the year, seven pillion passengers and 13 pedal cyclists have lost their lives - representing a 250 per cent hike in the deaths of pillion passengers and a 62.5 per cent uptick in the deaths of pedal cyclists.  There is also a disturbing trend in which the deaths of private motorcar (PMC) passengers have moved from 29 during the January 1 to August 27 period for 2012, to 39 for the corresponding period this year. That represents a 34 percent increase in the deaths of PMC passengers. NRSC is also concerned that child road fatalities have increased from 16 for January 1 to August 27, 2012 to 20 for January 1 to August 27, 2013; representing a 25 per cent hike in child deaths.

In the meantime, both Mrs. Fletcher and Dr. Jones are calling on the government to introduce electronic surveillance of roadways, in a bid to detect and facilitate the apprehension of offending motorists. They feel that this effort will assist the police and be a deterrent to traffic violations, as it is impossible to have a policeman on every corner.

A word of advice has also come from Earl Jarrett, member of the NRSC and Chairman of the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA). Mr. Jarrett is reiterating that if the country is to achieve the new target of fewer than 240 road fatalities annually, every Jamaica needs to take the issue of road safety seriously.  “I am convinced that not every Jamaican is playing a proactive role in self-protection and the protection of others on our roads. This needs to change, ” says Mr. Jarrett. “We need to start today, to exercise care and caution and obey the rules of the road. That’s the only way we will we able to progress as a nation.”


Posted By :Erica James-King

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